Coalition Issues Letter to Deficit Reduction Commission Regarding Military Spending

November 18, 2010

NATIONAL SECURITY EXPERTS & SCHOLARS URGE FISCAL COMMISSION TO CUT PENTAGON BUDGET; CITE NEED TO RETHINK U.S. MILITARY POSTURE

"Fiscal realities call on us to strike a new balance between investing in military power and attending to the fundamentals of national strength on which our true power rests."

November 18, 2010

Contacts:

AARON ESKE, 202-478-6156
aeske@mrss.com

PAULA CHRIN DIBLEY, 202-478-6138
pchrin@mrss.com

Washington, D.C. -- Forty-six top scholars and practitioners of national security policy delivered a joint letter to President Obama's Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform today, urging it to reduce the Pentagon's budget as part of the deficit cutting process. The group includes several well-known retired military officers. The convergence of opinion -- rare among this group of policy leaders and visionaries -- sends a forceful nonpartisan message that America must re-think its Defense posture to be sustainable for the future.

Last week the Co-chairmen of the Fiscal Commission publicly released options for reducing defense spending by as much as $100 billion per year. However, opposition to such cuts is mounting. Against this, the joint letter lays out the reasons why significant savings can be found in the Pentagon budget, arguing that "reducing the national debt is also a national security imperative."

"We can achieve safe savings in defense," writes the group, "if we are willing to rethink how we produce military power and how, why, and where we put it to use."

Signatories from across the country include a Nobel laureate, former Assistant Secretaries of Defense and Commerce, a former head of the Congressional Budget Office National Security Division and a former head of the National Security and International Affairs section of the White House Office of Management and the Budget. Also among the signatories are former members of the National Security Council, National Intelligence Council, and National Defense Panel. Twenty-two of the signatories are members of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Several of the signatories are former military officers of colonel rank or above, including the former president of the National Defense University, Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, Jr. (USA, ret), and renowned Army innovator, Col. Douglas Macgregor (USA, ret), who holds a bronze star for valor in the 1990-1991 Gulf War.

The 46 signatories of the letter emphasized that granting defense a special dispensation puts at risk the entire deficit reduction effort. Defense spending today constitutes over 55 percent of discretionary spending and 23 percent of the federal budget. An exemption for defense not only undermines the broader call for fiscal responsibility, but also makes overall budget restraint much harder as a practical economic and political matter.

Today the United States possesses a wide margin of global military superiority. The signatories acknowledged the possibility that larger military adversaries may rise to face us in the future. But they pointed out that the best hedge against this possibility is vigilance and a vibrant economy supporting a military able to adapt to new challenges as they emerge.

In October, 57 bipartisan members of Congress led by Reps. Barney Frank and Ron Paul sent a separate letter to the Commission urging members to consider real cuts to the Pentagon's budget.

"Change along these lines is bound to be controversial," said the letter sent today by the experts. "Budget reductions are never easy -- no less for defense than in any area of government. However, fiscal realities call on us to strike a new balance between investing in military power and attending to the fundamentals of national strength on which our true power rests."

Full text of the letter is below and examples of options for the Commission to pursue can be found here.

###

Dear Co-chairman Bowles and Co-chairman Simpson:

We are writing to you as experts in national security and defense economics to convey our views on the national security implications of the Commission's work and especially the need for achieving responsible reductions in military spending. In this regard, we appreciate the initiative you have taken in your 10 November 2010 draft proposal to the Commission. It begins a necessary process of serious reflection, debate, and action.

The vitality of our economy is the cornerstone of our nation's strength. We share the Commission's desire to bring our financial house into order. Doing so is not merely a question of economics. Reducing the national debt is also a national security imperative.

To date, the Obama administration has exempted the Defense Department from any budget reductions. This is short-sighted: It makes it more difficult to accomplish the task of restoring our economic strength, which is the underpinning of our military power.

As the rest of the nation labors to reduce its debt burden, the current plan is to boost the base DOD budget by 10 percent in real terms over the next decade. This would come on top of the nearly 52 percent real increase in base military spending since 1998. (When war costs are included the increase has been much greater: 95 percent.)

We appreciate Secretary Gates' efforts to reform the Pentagon's business and acquisition practices. However, even if his reforms fulfill their promise, the current plan does not translate them into budgetary savings that contribute to solving our deficit problem. Their explicit aim is to free funds for other uses inside the Pentagon. This is not good enough.

Granting defense a special dispensation puts at risk the entire deficit reduction effort. Defense spending today constitutes over 55 percent of discretionary spending and 23 percent of the federal budget. An exemption for defense not only undermines the broader call for fiscal responsibility, but also makes overall budget restraint much harder as a practical economic and political matter.

We need not put our economic power at risk in this way. Today the United States possesses a wide margin of global military superiority. The defense budget can bear significant reduction without compromising our essential security.

We recognize that larger military adversaries may rise to face us in the future. But the best hedge against this possibility is vigilance and a vibrant economy supporting a military able to adapt to new challenges as they emerge.

We can achieve greater defense economy today in several ways, all of which we urge you to consider seriously. We need to be more realistic in the goals we set for our armed forces and more selective in our choices regarding their use abroad. We should focus our military on core security goals and on those current and emerging threats that most directly affect us.

We also need to be more judicious in our choice of security instruments when dealing with international challenges. Our armed forces are a uniquely expensive asset and for some tasks no other instrument will do. For many challenges, however, the military is not the most cost-effective choice. We can achieve greater efficiency today without diminishing our security by better discriminating between vital, desirable, and unnecessary military missions and capabilities.

There is a variety of specific options that would produce savings, some of which we describe below. The important point, however, is a firm commitment to seek savings through a reassessment of our defense strategy, our global posture, and our means of producing and managing military power.


  • Since the end of the Cold War, we have required our military to prepare for and conduct more types of missions in more places around the world. The Pentagon's task list now includes not only preventive war, regime change, and nation building, but also vague efforts to "shape the strategic environment" and stem the emergence of threats. It is time to prune some of these missions and restore an emphasis on defense and deterrence.
  • U.S. combat power dramatically exceeds that of any plausible combination of conventional adversaries. To cite just one example, Secretary Gates has observed that the U.S. Navy is today as capable as the next 13 navies combined, most of which are operated by our allies. We can safely save by trimming our current margin of superiority.
  • America's permanent peacetime military presence abroad is largely a legacy of the Cold War. It can be reduced without undermining the essential security of the United States or its allies.
  • The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have revealed the limits of military power. Avoiding these types of operations globally would allow us to roll back the recent increase in the size of our Army and Marine Corps.
  • The Pentagon's acquisition process has repeatedly failed, routinely delivering weapons and equipment late, over cost, and less capable than promised. Some of the most expensive systems correspond to threats that are least prominent today and unlikely to regain prominence soon. In these cases, savings can be safely realized by cancelling, delaying, or reducing procurement or by seeking less costly alternatives.
  • Recent efforts to reform Defense Department financial management and acquisition practices must be strengthened. And we must impose budget discipline to trim service redundancies and streamline command, support systems, and infrastructure.

Change along these lines is bound to be controversial. Budget reductions are never easy - no less for defense than in any area of government. However, fiscal realities call on us to strike a new balance between investing in military power and attending to the fundamentals of national strength on which our true power rests. We can achieve safe savings in defense if we are willing to rethink how we produce military power and how, why, and where we put it to use.

Sincerely,

Gordon Adams, American University
Robert Art, Brandeis University
Deborah Avant, UC Irvine
Andrew Bacevich, Boston University
Richard Betts, Columbia University
Linda Bilmes, Kennedy School, Harvard University
Steven Clemons, New America Foundation
Joshua Cohen, Stanford University and Boston Review
Carl Conetta, Project on Defense Alternatives
Owen R. Cote Jr., Security Studies Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Michael Desch, University of Notre Dame
Matthew Evangelista, Cornell University
Benjamin H. Friedman, Cato Institute
Lt. Gen. (USA, Ret.) Robert G. Gard, Jr., Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation
David Gold, Graduate Program in International Affairs, The New School
William Hartung, Arms and Security Initiative, New America Foundation
David Hendrickson, Colorado College
Michael Intriligator, UCLA and Milken Institute
Robert Jervis, Columbia University
Sean Kay, Ohio Wesleyan University
Elizabeth Kier, University of Washington
Charles Knight, Project on Defense Alternatives
Lawrence Korb, Center for American Progress
Peter Krogh, Georgetown University
Walter LaFeber, Cornell University
Richard Ned Lebow, Dartmouth College
Col. (USA, Ret.) Douglas Macgregor
Scott McConnell, The American Conservative
John Mearsheimer, University of Chicago
Steven Metz, national security analyst and writer
Steven Miller, Kennedy School, Harvard University and International Security
Janne Nolan, American Security Project
Robert Paarlberg, Wellesley College and Harvard University
Paul Pillar, Georgetown University
Barry Posen, Security Studies Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Christopher Preble, Cato Institute
Daryl Press, Dartmouth College
Jeffrey Record, defense policy analyst and writer
David Rieff, author
Thomas Schelling, University of Maryland
Jack Snyder, Columbia University
J. Ann Tickner, University of Southern California
Robert Tucker, Johns Hopkins University
Stephen Van Evera, Security Studies Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Stephen Walt, Harvard University
Kenneth Waltz, Columbia University
Cindy Williams, Security Studies Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Daniel Wirls, University of California, Santa Cruz

**This letter reflects the opinions of the individual signatories. Institutions are listed for identification purposes only.**

Posted by coalition at November 18, 2010 10:09 AM

<< Letter to Deficit Reduction Commission Regarding Military Spending | Main | Deficits and Defense 11.19.2010 >>

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